Reviews of the 2019 Sibert Award winners


The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science
by Joyce Sidman; 
photos by the author
Intermediate    Houghton    140 pp.    g
2/18    978-0-544-71713-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-328-83028-9    $9.99

Sidman introduces readers to Maria Merian, a seventeenth-century German naturalist whose illustrations of the life cycles of butterflies and moths included groundbreaking scientific details, such as the inclusion of eggs in the insect life cycle and the portrayal of the ecological interdependence of plants and animals. Excellent reproductions of the gorgeous botanical prints allow readers to appreciate their accurate scientific detail and artistry. Merian’s story, from childhood through her often unconventional and adventurous adult life, is told in twelve chapters, each titled with a stage in a butterfly’s life cycle; photographs illustrating each of the butterfly stages were taken by the author, who was inspired to raise the creatures herself. Merian was a prolific diarist, and the inclusion of numerous excerpts from her journals, along with historical illustrations and maps, gives the reader glimpses into this period of history and of the talented women who lived in it. A timeline, a glossary, sources, additional readings, and an informative author’s note are included. DANIELLE J. FORD

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild
by Catherine Thimmesh
Intermediate    Houghton    60 pp.
4/18    978-0-544-81891-0    $17.99
In an engaging and balanced narrative, Thimmesh describes Chinese conservation researchers' groundbreaking efforts to reintroduce pandas to the wild and the challenges this vulnerable species faces given their small numbers and vanishing habitats. Numerous photographs show adorable pandas and their human caregivers--innovatively dressed in panda suits to shield developing pandas from human contact. "What Can You Do?" section included. Bib., glos., ind. DANIELLE J. FORD

From the Fall 2018 issue of The Horn Book Guide.

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America
by Gail Jarrow
Intermediate, Middle School    Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills    142 pp.
8/18    978-1-62979-776-2    $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-68437-143-3    $9.99

In 1938, on the night before Halloween, an American radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells’s science-fiction novel about a Martian invasion, caused widespread panic and hysteria. Producers Orson Welles and John Houseman (who later went on to have legendary careers in theater and film) updated the novel’s setting from turn-of-the-century Britain to contemporary America, interrupted the scheduled program with fake news updates, referenced real place names, and even used an actor who sounded like President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jarrow infuses her tightly plotted narrative with plenty of drama and suspense while weaving in sufficient background information, biographical vignettes, and play-by-play commentary to establish context. She concludes with a discussion of some subsequent hoaxes — and the requisite author’s note, source notes, bibliography (including a link to the radio broadcast itself online), and index. Meghan McCarthy’s picture book Aliens Are Coming! (rev. 7/06) tells the same story for a younger audience, but this longer account is welcome: despite its somewhat stodgy design, it’s an admirable feat of nonfiction storytelling. JONATHAN HUNT

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School Houghton 105 pp.
9/18 978-1-328-81015-1 $18.99
e-book ed. 978-1-328-56104-6 $13.99

There are over five million Syrian refugees around the world today, and each one has a unique story. Brown returns to the comics format of Drowned City (rev. 9/15) and The Great American Dust Bowl (rev. 11/13) to create a powerful history of the Syrian civil war, punctuated with the stories of many individual refugees. With the incorporation of the refugees’ own words, this multiplicity of experiences accumulates and compounds to great emotional effect. Some of the refugees (all real people) have success stories to tell: a young girl and her family find refuge in Canada, where she thrives, “takes up skating, and enjoys Halloween.” Many other stories are tragic. A man loses his family when their boat capsizes; other Syrian refugees face hostility in Europe (“REFUGEES NOT WELCOME!”) or discrimination in neighboring, overwhelmed Lebanon. Near the end, one mother asserts, “The future is not for us. The future is for our children.” Brown provides concrete comparisons that make the problem more tangible and relatable (he compares the population of Syria to that of Florida; he shows how the influx of refugees from Syria to Lebanon is, proportionately, as if the entire population of Mexico moved to the United States). As in the previous works, illustrations have a sketchbook-like quality and feature faces drawn with minimal features that are nonetheless expressive, lending the subjects a sort of universality. The varied panels perfectly control the pacing, thoughtfully guiding readers through difficult subject matter. Appended material includes Brown’s impressions from his visits to refugee camps in Greece, an extensive bibliography, and source notes for all quotations. The wrenching stories and illustrations would complement a historical inquiry of the conflict, or provide much-needed humanity to a depersonalized and politicized topic. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
by Traci Sorell; illus. by Frané Lessac
Primary Charlesbridge 32 pp.
9/18 978-1-58089-772-3 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-63289-633-9 $9.99

“Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude. It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles — daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.” An extended family engages with activities and traditions that express gratitude and carry on Cherokee history and culture, such as stomp dancing at the Great New Moon Ceremony, basket weaving, making corn-husk dolls, and playing stickball. The book underscores the importance of traditions and carrying on a Cherokee way of life while simultaneously incorporating modernity and challenging dated media images of Indigenous people. Here, a father sporting an earring and a topknot minds the children; a family bids goodbye to a clan relative who deploys with the U.S. military. Skin colors range from light to dark, visually underscoring the book’s message of diversity and inclusion. Staying firmly upbeat and idyllic, the cheerful, richly detailed gouache illustrations in bright, saturated colors cycle through the seasons, beginning with the Cherokee New Year in autumn. The text includes several Cherokee words; a line of text in a smaller font along the bottom of the page provides each word as written in the English alphabet, its phonetic pronunciation, the word as written in the Cherokee alphabet, and its definition. A glossary, an author’s note on Cherokee culture, and a complete Cherokee syllabary conclude this attractive and informative book. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana
by Michael Mahin; illus. by Jose Ramirez
Primary    Atheneum    48 pp.
9/18    978-1-5344-0413-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-0414-4    $10.99

In When Angels Sing, Mahin’s staccato second-person text (“One day, you went to Aquatic Park. Los congas rumbled into your chest. There was magic in their beat. A breath. A breeze. A feeling”) lends immediacy to his account of Santana’s youth. Mahin relates the boy’s experiences of migration (first within Mexico and then to San Francisco), racial discrimination, and poverty in a manner both accessible and deep. He shows how Santana’s brother’s activism and determination during California’s 1960s farmworkers’ struggle inspires Santana to keep playing guitar and never give up (“If they can, I can”). Ramirez’s full-bleed Mexican-folk-art–influenced acrylic and enamel marker illustrations expertly capture mood and propel the narrative forward, subtly incorporating year stamps on many spreads to mark the passage of time. LETTYCIA TERRONES

Originally published as a group review with Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World; read full review here. From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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